Accepted Paper:

The anthropologists' video camera as a stage: Displaced communities' attempt of counter-imaging in Sudan  


Valerie Haensch (LMU Munich)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyzes genres of crises witnessing as claims of truth-telling. It explores how the anthropologists' video camera is used by displaced communities as a stage aiming at the production of visual counter-evidence against hegemonic discourses and promises of large infrastructures.

Paper long abstract:

Based on in-depth ethnographic research the paper proposes to analyze genres of representations, which I call here "crises witnessing". I explore how communities aim to visually document, witness and communicate a silenced history of forced displacement in a remote area along the Nile in Northern Sudan. With the construction of the Merowe Dam, the River Nile was impounded, and thousands of people have been flooded out of their homes without warning and even before resettlement had taken place. In the absence of smartphones and the lack of cameras at the beginning of the flooding, many inhabitants asked me to record the destruction, the flight, and the appeals to the international community. Based on the internalized perception that images are able to establish evidence, the forcefully evicted inhabitants placed great hope in the power of images to prove human rights violations and to provide visual counter-evidence against hegemonic discourses. In this paper, I argue that the video camera acts as an "actant" evoking specific genres of representations in moments of crisis that differ from everyday interactions with a video camera. These, often performative, genres of crises witnessing which aim at the production of visual evidence, I contend, resonate with globally distributed media realities and hence reproduce certain practices of communication that are stereotyped in the mass media. The local interactions with the camera as a stage, that appropriate global regimes of representations and stage "witnesses" and produce "victims", require critical reflections about the challenges to produce visual evidence as an anthropologist.

Panel P091
Anthropologies of witnessing: imaginaries, technologies, practices